I’ve spent my entire life involved with Tibetan Buddhism, which essentially considers the teacher to be divine, superhuman and worthy of worship and reverence. They have a very highly socially encoded system with the religious tenets being that we have a graduated, spiritual evolutionary path, starting from a beginning meditator, up to an enlightened person. That person is supposed to possess supernatural powers, like profound compassion and clairvoyance. The relationship with this divine being is an essential component to the student being able to make progress. They have a well-formulated training and yogic path, which involves a series of private empowerments and transmissions that are thought to expedite one’s progress. I had the good fortune to have met a very pure, ethical and simple Buddhist teacher when living in Nepal, who really did have all of these qualities. He gave us very helpful teachings, was warm, and we sat often alone in his bedroom, where he was on lifetime retreat. I never felt from him that he regarded himself as being something particularly special or better than me. There was never any sense of abuse, sexual exploitation, division of power or any lofty religious pomp and circumstance between us. Even when I think of him today it’s my primary relationship, and my devotion for him even though he passed away in 1996 has never waned.
However, at the same time, Tibetan Buddhism, most likely because the culture was isolated and the country was closed for the most part for centuries, still holds a social structure based on a feudal system. That feudal system is based on a king that is an absolute monarch, and everyone within his milieu is there to serve, obey and worship him. We all know of the human problems that can occur when you combine religious and secular social systems and when you give any man absolute power. We’ve seen a lot of recent scandals in spiritual traditions, the Catholic priests, Hindu gurus and now Tibetan Buddhist teachers being accused for taking liberties with students in terms of sex, money, violence and power differentials. The culture and community leads way to this type of unfortunate human corruption. This all is now changing.
Another problem comes up with this tiered system of spiritual titles and perceived accomplishment, is that people really do feel that they are endowed with some type of spiritual superiority. Unfortunately in this situation it’s not really a facet of human development or compassion or altruism, it’s just spiritual ego and particularly unsavory. We see it often people using their tiles or their religious robes to harm others in countless ways. People who do this are not capable of making any real progress on the spiritual path and they spend their entire lives trying to gain some type of narcissistic supply, an ego boost from other people regarding them as divine. Oftentimes, the whole thing is a complete spiritual con that uses people financially, sexually, emotionally and with power and control. This can to do nothing but uphold the constructs of one’s ego. People can spend their entire lives on social media posting pictures of how spiritual they are, how insightful they are, who they’ve hobnobbed with and who their amazing spiritual teachers are. And for an entire life this can work, the person can feel a sense of self as being a virtuous and pious person, but if you look closely all that has been forged is dense, indestructible ego. This is where religion and spirituality can go very wrong, and I think it’s important that we in a very honest way, look at the difference between someone like the humbleness and gentleness of my authentic teacher and those who use their spirituality for something wholly different. Dr. Ramani talks so eloquently about virtue-signaling spiritual narcissists and the harm they do to so many. I can only hope that the voices of things like the #metoo movement can put a firm stop to these harmful people’s conduct. Narcissists and people in power generally do not have insight nor desire to change, so all we can hope for is social awareness.
Social Media Guidelines for So-Called Vajrayana Practitioners
by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche| January 18, 2013
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